Kabbalat Shabbat Eikev Psalm 95

Eikev 2018 Kabbalat Shabbat
Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation B’nai Israel

To speak about the Psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat is to speak about the psalms themselves. What do they mean? Why do we recite them? What about them has such a hold upon us? The Book of Psalms, Tehillim, has power cross-culturally. Bubbies everywhere (and lots of other Jews, too) recite Tehillim, Psalms when people are ill. The words themselves seem to have magical, mystical power to comfort, to revive, to revitalize. Whether the change is real or imagined, the psalms give us space to DO something when we are concerned, feeling lost, upset. They offer us consolation, and a reminder that we are not alone.
Last Shabbat, I spoke of the power of our tradition, not to cure loneliness, but to ameliorate it. Together, we know that every emotion under the sun is happening somewhere in the people Israel. The Psalms remind us of this. The depths and highs of emotion are felt in Tehillim. Every facet of human existence can be found--wrath, anger, love, hope, depression, sadness, excitement, joy, apathy. From one end of the spectrum to the other, all is within the psalms. As such, there is literally a psalm for anything and everything.
Psalms are powerful inside and outside the Jewish tradition. Christians read Psalms to support them in times of trouble. Funerals across the world use the 23rd Psalm to remind that Gd is present in the darkest (and brightest) times. We say psalms in the cemetery, when we follow the met, and frequently Shomrim say psalms while watching over the deceased.

In times of joy, we sing Psalms--at births, at weddings. Almost every festival includes Hallel, a series of Psalms to uplift and shout out loud. So it makes sense that the 16th century Kabbalists of Safed/Tsfat would begin saying Psalms to welcome the Sabbath bride.

The first of these Psalms, the 95th Psalm is well known for its opening. However we sing Lechu Nerana, we usually sing out it out loud. We sing to God, we share our joy, reminding ourselves that Gd is the source of all, of everything, of all existence.

Chapter 95
א לְכוּ, נְרַנְּנָה לַהי; נָרִיעָה, לְצוּר יִשְׁעֵנוּ.
ב נְקַדְּמָה פָנָיו בְּתוֹדָה; בִּזְמִרוֹת, נָרִיעַ לוֹ.
ג כִּי אֵל גָּדוֹל הי; וּמֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל, עַל-כָּל-אֱ-לֹהִים.
ד אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדוֹ, מֶחְקְרֵי-אָרֶץ; וְתוֹעֲפֹת הָרִים לוֹ. 
1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout for joy unto Him with psalms
3 For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods;
4 In whose hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also.
ה אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ הַיָּם, וְהוּא עָשָׂהוּ; וְיַבֶּשֶׁת, יָדָיו יָצָרוּ
ו בֹּאוּ, נִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנִכְרָעָה; נִבְרְכָה, לִפְנֵי-הי עֹשֵׂנוּ.
ז כִּי הוּא אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ-- וַאֲנַחְנוּ עַם מַרְעִיתוֹ, וְצֹאן יָדוֹ:
הַיּוֹם, אִם-בְּקֹלוֹ תִשְׁמָעוּ.
ח אַל-תַּקְשׁוּ לְבַבְכֶם, כִּמְרִיבָה; כְּיוֹם מַסָּה, בַּמִּדְבָּר. 
.5 The sea is His, and He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.
6 O come, let us bow down and bend the knee; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the flock of His hand. {N}
To-day, if ye would but hearken to His voice!
8 'Harden not your heart, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness;
ט אֲשֶׁר נִסּוּנִי, אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם: בְּחָנוּנִי, גַּם-רָאוּ פָעֳלִי.
י אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, אָקוּט בְּדוֹר-- וָאֹמַר, עַם תֹּעֵי לֵבָב הֵם; וְהֵם, לֹא-יָדְעוּ דְרָכָי.
יא אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי בְאַפִּי; אִם-יְבֹאוּן, אֶל-מְנוּחָתִי. 
9 When your fathers tried Me, proved Me, even though they saw My work.
10 For forty years was I wearied with that generation, and said: It is a people that do err in their heart, {N}
and they have not known My ways;
11 Wherefore I swore in My wrath, that they should not enter into My rest.' {P} 
(Text from mechon-mamre.org)

The psalm itself is a fascinating one. It teaches us an important lesson in leadership. Much like Aleynu, it reminds us that Gd needs us--just as we need Gd. In order for Gd to BE Gd, there must be those that listen to Gd’s commands. A leader needs followers in order to be a leader. (Funny, Maureen and I were just discussing this the other day!)

Besides leadership, it is a reminder of how we understand Gd. We follow Gd because of who we are. It is intrinsic to our souls, to our yiddishe neshamas. Instinctually we know that all is in the domain of the Holy One. Earth, land, water, fire. It’s not just sixties music, they are fundamental parts of creation. Together they offer us the connection to the natural world, to the created world, to the essence of ourselves. Recognizing that we are part of this creation, we are not alone. We are not just specks, dust of the universe, but we are intentional. We are part of something greater. We are here for a reason.

The most challenging part of this psalm is the end. Why does it end on such a dark note? Why does it close with verses of anger and frustration? And why would we say those verses on Shabbat? Why not close the psalm a few lines early?

Counter-intuitively, the closing lines actually show our connection to Gd! They remind us of our past. They show us that we are Gd’s people EVEN when we do not listen. Even if we are making BIG mistakes--like doubting Gd’s ability to provide water or building the golden calf. Even at our worst, we are still connected to Gd! The covenant, the brit, applies in the good times and the bad. Personally, I am inspired by the wrong-doing of our ancestors. If Abraham is perfect, I have a hard time emulating him. Knowing that he made mistakes, it’s easier to identify with his path. Even Moshe had lessons to learn! From his non-Jewish father in law he had to be reminded to take care of himself, to share his workload. (That is a lesson many of us could use on a regular basis.)

Tonight, let us release the anger of the end and celebrate the song of Shabbat!